Teach Every Child
Gretchen Levi Judge, M.M. ’99, proudly conducted her orchestra of over 80 elementary school students in a concert hall in Rochester, New York. The students had been practicing the violin almost every day for weeks in preparation for the event. With hard work and perseverance — and the dedication of teachers like Judge — these young violinists had come a long way despite the realities of poverty and high dropout rates working against many of them.
“When I turned around after our song to lead the kids in a bow, I saw one of the fathers with tears streaming down his face he was so proud,” said Judge.
Judge is music director for Strings for Success, a program that brings music instruction and violin lessons to students at Charles T. Lunsford School 19 in the Rochester City School District. Each year, anywhere from 80 to 100 of the school’s students from third to eighth grade are learning to play the violin.
Inside the Violin Room
The idea was brought to life in 2008, after Patty Yarmel, school psychologist and cofounder of the program, approached Judge, who she knew had a background in teaching and violin instruction. Together they worked to bring music to this public school, which is located in an area that suffers from a high concentration of poverty.
“Many of our students have faced really hard times — homelessness, the loss of a parent, hunger,” said Judge. “And we in the violin room are a resource, to them and the school, to offer some love and help.”
Each week, the students participate in two large-group classes and one private lesson. Judge is part of a team of six violin instructors. Rehearsals are scheduled carefully so as not to intrude on class time. The violin instructors and classroom teachers alike support the musical and academic education of these students. Their cooperation is what allows the program to flourish, Judge said.
Strings for Success uses the Suzuki approach to violin instruction. This methodology is centered on the notion that everyone is capable of learning from their environment and that a positive environment will help to foster character in each student.
“Every child can learn,” said Judge. “That’s the philosophy of Suzuki, and that’s what we do. We teach every child.”
Focusing on music is like meditation for these students, Judge said. It helps them clear their minds of distractions and challenges. Starting their mornings with this level of focus and concentration allows the students to be calmer and more collected throughout the day, and gives them something to be proud of. “Our students really consider themselves violinists,” said Judge. “That’s part of who they are.”
Focus on Holistic Teaching
Before beginning this successful program, Judge got her master’s degree in music education from Ithaca College. While at IC, she worked with many professors who had a lasting effect on her.
“Debra Moree was an incredible influence in my own performing as well as my approach to teaching,” said Judge. “She was so new-age. She would talk about how different parts of your body helped produce sound.”
The Alexander technique and body awareness that Moree taught in college, emphasizing good posture to avoid unnecessary muscular and mental tension, has become even more valuable for Judge as an adult when balancing the many aspects of her life, including her music, her children, and her students.
“I would not be the teacher I am if I hadn’t worked with Moree or had the Suzuki training,” said Judge. “It’s given me a level of expertise that has allowed me to be a partner in this program.”